Christianity without Christ
The last words we have directly from Jesus are found in seven letters to seven churches in the Book of the Revelation. Our Lord surely intended that all of us should study what He had to say in all of these letters in which Jesus addresses the entire spectrum of Christians from Pentecost down to the Rapture. While every one of these seven letters applies to you and me, many of us believe that we have also been given a snapshot of the major issues in the church historically ordered, (fairly evident when we read them in order). Taking this view, the major issues in the church right now, in the early 21st Century, especially in Europe and the United States, can be found in the letter to the Church of Laodicea.
When I became a Christian nearly fifty years ago I can recall visiting wonderful churches that seemed to be "Philadelphian" in character. Just this year (it seems to me at least) that Laodicean Christianity has moved onto center stage. 1, 2 Each of these seven letters has layers of meaning; I'll just touch very briefly on a couple of points. (See references 3-12 in the notes below. Consider this your homework assignment if you feel you need to catch up.)
"And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. "So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. "Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'--and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked--"I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."'" (Revelation 3:14-22)
Fifty years ago, verse 30 was made part of the "Four Laws" booklet issued by Campus Crusade for Christ. "Behold I stand at the door and knock..." proved very effective in "presenting Christ" -- helping individuals see the importance of spiritual rebirth and in taking a first step of faith in becoming personally involved with God through Christ Jesus. Nevertheless, in the Greek, the Lord's offer is to the church as a whole, not just to individuals.
Jesus founded his church (Matthew 16:13-19) -- should Jesus not always be in the center of the life of the church, not left marginalized out into the patio? Jesus owns the church, she is His "blood bought" bride.
"Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish." (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Jesus was, and still is, the Teacher, the Great Shepherd, the Leader of the liturgy, and the Object of our worship.
"And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence." (Colossians 1:18)
How insane it is to see a church running on auto-pilot in total disregard of Jesus! Are we now so proficient that the people (laos+dikea = "the voice of popular opinion") has led us to believe that we can manage quite well as a headless entity. Jesus is welcome in the patio or in the lobby as long as he doesn't interfere with our way of doing things. These words should shock us to the core. But a lukewarm church apparently responds to no one.
Not only is Jesus the Lord of the church, He is the Bridegroom courting a very special Bride. The symbol of the church as the betrothed bride of Christ speaks of intimacy, inner chasteness and purity. The coming totally false church is called "the great prostitute" for good reason. The corresponding masculine symbol of the Church ("the Body of Christ"), as a mighty conquering king, can only be made manifest when the Lord fills and empowers His church from the inside. The queenly woman in Song of Solomon abiding closely in her Lover is a formidable opponent of darkness and evil. She is a fitting symbol of Christ's church "militant and triumphant."
"Who is this that looks forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?" (Song of Songs 6:10)
Jesus has nothing good at all to say to the church of Laodicea! But he offers hope to the remnant of faithful believers within that church. These individuals are called "overcomers." "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." (Revelation 3:21)
Jesus does not ask His people to leave Laodicean-like churches. He does urge vigorous repentance:
"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. "So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. "Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'--and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked-- "I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent." (Revelation 3:15-19)
There is an eighth church depicted in the Book of the Revelation (Chapter 17). From that assembly any and all followers of Jesus are urged to flee. 12
The near-total failure of the church after 2000 years resembles the failure of Israel at the time of the First Advent of Jesus. The Israelites were proficient at the externals of religion and worship, but thoroughly adulterous in their false pursuit of "other gods." The church has been given much greater knowledge about God than Israel had received under the Old Covenant. We were invited into a newer and far more powerful covenant with God than Israel was. Are we any better? No, not at all. We, too have failed. Jesus asked an enigmatic question when talking about his second visit, "When the son of man comes will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8) Evidently "not much" is the assumed answer.
Just as there was a faithful remnant 3 down through the history of Israel, and there is now a remnant of the church. Because Israel's failure was so serious, the Messiah is named "true Israel" in Isaiah. Israel's messiah came through by his perfect obedience, therefore the people of Israel can be saved by trusting Messiah for their justification their righteousness. The church may be reduce to a small handful by the time the Bridegroom calls us home, but the plan of God will not have failed for either Israel or the church.
"...Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish." (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Each time I re-read Jesus' words to the Laodiceans something new leaps out of those few verses. Today the one verse about opening the door is on my mind. Jesus needs to be invited back into the center of his church, don't you agree? This is not about some new program! Love can't be forced, Jesus is not a tyrant. He is the most worthy Bridegroom courting a most unworthy Bride. Should these two not be in closer dialogue as their wedding days approaches?
"Getting right" with Jesus as the Lord of the church simply means that everyone of us needs to stop dead in our tracks right now and ask Jesus to take over as Lord in our lives and in our sphere of influence. The rest is up to Him. Let's all step out into the patio and invite Jesus back into a central role in our worship, our study, and our ministry (all Christians are engaged in the world of the ministry).
Because of God's love, Jesus has invited Jews and gentiles alike into a big family gathering, (Ephesians 2:13-22). A local church is also a mix of wheat and tares: true followers of Christ and those who merely want to go along for the ride. Because of this we must not judge any church by externals. If a whole church has been marginalizing Jesus, (a church is a collection of individuals), then every individual in the ensemble needs to be concerned about any lack of intimacy he or she has with Jesus, any marginalizing of the Lord because of personal idols. The picture of a virgin bride, pure and holy, chaste and devoted speaks of our inner intimacy with Jesus. If that intimacy is there, Jesus can live through each of us in all his fullness. What the world sees then is the church militant and triumphant, "Who is this who looks forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright of the sun, terrible as an army with banners." (Song 6:10)
As I sat down to write this a new book arrived in the mail. The authors challenge God's people on this very issue of regaining intimacy with Jesus our Lord. Amen. The Jesus Manifesto, is a new book by Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet. I have long enjoyed what Frank Viola has to say.
I have never seen an authentic on-the-spot miracle, but now I ARE one. I almost died this month. But, it was not my time and God brought me back. See my short testimony on this, http://ldolphin.org/amiracle.html. Drop me a note if you have comments or questions.
The main library page on my web site is an example of ever-increasing chaos (high entropy) in the cosmos. But there is some order there: newer articles go up at the top and the search engine is working.
Finances: I am amazed at the generous financial help friends (near and far) have sent me in recent weeks. Still, I was in considerable trepidation this spring seeing all those soaring "doughnut hole" costs for prescriptions. And, medical insurance premiums took a big jump up towards the center of our galaxy. For a time I could not imagine surviving through the summer. But God... My financial needs are ongoing--I am a one man ministry. If you have extra spare "coins" you can use the PayPal box on my web site. If you'd like a tax receipt, send your check to Ray Stedman Ministries, Attn: Lambert Dolphin Ministries, PO Box 413, Mount Hermon, CA 95041. (Checks towards my support should no longer be sent through Peninsula Bible Church). Thank you very much!
Psalm 37 has been speaking volumes to me lately. For instance, "I have been young, and now am old; Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, Nor his descendants begging bread. He is ever merciful, and lends; And his descendants are blessed." (Psalm 37:25-26)
Classes: My next teaching series commencing in mid-July, God willing, will be in the Psalms, starting with the Messianic Psalms. I plan to record these sessions and will post them on my web site, http://ldolphin.org.
Resources: A team of men and women help me answer email coming to the Ray Stedman Library raystedman.org, to my web site, to templemount.org and to the paracleteforum.org. Send your inquiries to mailto:email@example.com. My old news letters are all online: ldolphin.org/news. I try to stay available to people who write me.
June 25, 2010
1. Ray Stedman analyzes the letters to the seven churches in his commentary on the Book of the Revelation; see http://raystedman.org/new-testament/revelation.
2. I found J. Hampton Heathley III's, "The Message to Laodicea," excellent, and not to be missed, http://bible.org/seriespage/message-laodicea-rev-314-22
3. The Concept of the Remnant, http://ldolphin.org/Remn.html
4. Expository Preaching or Greek Oratory? http://ldolphin.org/groratory.html
5.When Churches Run on Autopilot, http://ldolphin.org/autopilot.html
6. The Church at the End of the Age, http://ldolphin.org/church.html
7. Jesus Courts a Bride, http://ldolphin.org/courts.html
8. The Christian and Worldliness, by Ray Stedman, http://ldolphin.org/worldly.html
9. Leadership in the Church, by Paul Winslow, http://ldolphin.org/topdown.html
10. Isaiah 58, Paint or Get off the Ladder, (Hypocrisy among God's people), http://ldolphin.org/isaiah58.html
11. The Church as the Secret Government of Earth, http://ldolphin.org/inalienable.html
12. A Woman Rides the Best: A City on Seven Hills, http://www.chick.com/information/religions/catholicism/sevenhills.asp