Degrees of Lukewarmness
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I’m about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16
The Easter Sunday Celebration Service of the City of Angels Church can be summed up in one word – “hot!” With an attendance of 864, the fellowship and the singing were electric! Included in the service was the AMS Region’s presentation of the moving play entitled, The Crossmaker – which so fittingly for Easter, glorifies the resurrection of Jesus Christ. During this momentous day, the Lord added 11 to our number – seven baptisms, two place memberships from our former fellowship, and two restorations – one of whom was Nivan Bhalla, a former Evangelist in India and Pakistan! Very excitingly, with a challenging goal of $334,000 for our Missions Contribution, the Lord blessed us as $374,956 was joyfully sacrificed to help plant five more SoldOut Movement Churches this summer – Boston, Orlando, San Francisco, Mexico City and Paris!
God desires and demands “wholehearted devotion” from His people. (1 Kings 8:23) Jesus reiterates this total commitment when asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus answers quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:28-30) At another time, Jesus explains that “the Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44) This “sold-out” commitment does not “pay” for our salvation, but it is God’s gracious condition for us to be received into His presence as His “treasured possession.” (Deuteronomy 26:16-18)
This same call echoes in the first century church, as on the very first day of its creation all 3,000 “members” “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42) In fact, at the height of persecution during Domitian’s reign in the late first century, Jesus admonishes disciples, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10) God’s people – physical Israel in the Old Testament and “spiritual Israel” (the church) in the New Testament – are called to a singular devotion in a “covenant of love” – “hot” with zeal for His purposes.
Sadly, America has plunged into a post-Christian era. In fact, “For the first time in Gallup’s tracking of the issue, a majority of Americans (53%) believe same-sex marriage should be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages.” (Gallup Politics) On the website Californiality is another shocking revelation, “The California divorce rate is now at a staggering 75 percent. Three out of four marriages in the Golden State end in divorce… The marriage breakup of former First Couple Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, the marital split of superstar couple Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony, the Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries breakup, the Katy Perry and Russell Brand divorce drama, and the sad split of Seal and Heidi Klum are well-publicized examples of marriages on the rocks.” Of the utmost concern, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for 34,598 deaths. The overall rate was 11.3 suicide deaths per 100,000 people. An estimated 11 attempted suicides occur per every suicide death.”
What has been the “Christian church’s” response to this escalating darkness? Today, “churches” embrace homosexual ministers, perform gay marriages, and cover-up the sexual abuse of children by their priests. The darkness of the world has “leavened” the church – eroding Biblical convictions. There is no call from the pulpits for obedience to the standard of absolute truth – the Bible – to rescue marriages and families, let alone to give answers for those whose life is hopeless and in despair.
“Traditional churches” such as the Mainline Church of Christ are losing members. In fact, according to The Christian Chronicle, the International Newspaper for Churches of Christ, “Since 2003, Churches of Christ have lost more than 102,000 adherents – more people than the number that attended this year’s Super Bowl. Their 2012 Directory also counts 708 fewer Churches of Christ than it did nine years ago.”
For many so-called “Christians,” they have found a home in “community churches.” Some choose these churches by the relative proximity to their homes. Others are mesmerized by a church band or entertained by the church choir, both of which sadly cover up for the lack of heart in congregational singing. The concept of a community church is foreign to the teachings of Jesus, who called God’s people to be “the light of the [entire] world” – not just the local community. (Matthew 5:14) The core concept of community churches is simply to “meet the needs” of each of its members while often preaching a “prosperity gospel.” This is the complete antithesis of Jesus’ radical call to change the world by surrendering comfort and riches. (Luke 14:33) Deceived and enticed, many find the community church to be “better” than the “traditional church” they left or were raised in. Yet, in actuality, it’s simply a matter of “degrees of lukewarmness!”
In Revelation 3:14-22, Jesus addresses the church in Laodicea as “lukewarm.” Interestingly, the statement “lukewarm – neither hot nor cold” has an historical background. In Hierapolis, just six miles north of Laodicea, were mineral “hot” springs. Colossae, about 11 miles east, was known for its “cold” pure waters. Yet, Laodicea’s water came from a spring five miles to the south which arrived through Roman aqueducts only “lukewarm.”
The much admired Pulpit Commentary’s “take” on Jesus’ words, “So, because you are lukewarm… I am about to spit you out of my mouth” is: “The distaste and nausea produced by lukewarm food [or drink], which the stomach naturally rejects with loathing, are used as a figure of speech in which to express the abhorrence of Christ for those who lacked zeal in His service.” The vision of the lukewarm church given to John was of Jesus standing at the door and knocking. In other words, the Spirit was not in the church! As a matter of fact, the church – with its door closed – was stopping Him from getting in!
Two questions arise: Why is Jesus so angry at lukewarm Christians? Secondly, why don’t the lukewarm change? The answer to the first question is actually quite simple: The word “jealous” and “zealous” are one in the same in the Old Testament Hebrew texts. As a man would be upset with the adultery of his wife, so God is upset at Christians who are less than totally faithful to Him. (Ezekiel 16:1-32) Amazingly, as Hosea once again loved Gomer, God will accept us back because of His grace and mercy, if we would just “repent.” However, Jesus says, the lukewarm don’t repent because they say, “‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’” Jesus then confronts their apathetic numbness, “But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17) A lukewarm Christian [or church] “feels” that they are “doing fine spiritually” or they are falsely convinced that they are “on the verge of changing” to become “hot.” But the often infuriating truth to them is that they remain nauseous to Jesus.
Many are alarmed when a congregation or a whole fellowship is “labeled” as “lukewarm.” Yet Jesus calls the whole Laodicean Church “lukewarm.” Interestingly, in His address to the Sardis Church, He says, “I know your deeds; you have the reputation of being alive but you’re dead.” However, after calling the church dead, He says, “Yet, you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me dressed in white, for they are worthy.” (Revelation 3:4) So Jesus recognizes that in a dead church or a lukewarm church, there are still “a few” who are sold-out disciples that are saved.
Some question, “Why can’t we all be united and work together?” The best parallel comes from 2 Chronicles 36 when God scatters and exiles Judah because “there was no remedy.” (2 Chronicles 36:16) In other words, “His people” were so calloused by their cancerous sins, God had to start again. Some in lukewarm churches, may see their leaders as “wholeheartedly devoted” to God, yet lukewarm churches exist because leaders are either cowardly about the consequences of preaching the Word and the Biblical call to obedience, or they are sentimental as they place relationships above Jesus’ call “to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) This failure is their lukewarmness.
Conversely, more and more people are being baptized, restored and placing membership in the SoldOut Movement Churches around the world. Of special note is the forming of a Paris Remnant Group by two former full-time ministry couples in Paris – Guillaume & Stephanie Bellamy and Philippe & Prisca Scheidecker. Also exciting is the forming of a group of disciples coming out of our former fellowship in the Antelope Valley some 70 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. Presently, they number 20… and counting! Each of these “remnant disciples” have visited the City of Angels Church and said in one manner or another, “This is the church I was baptized in!”
Revival is desperately needed in America and indeed worldwide! To have revival, there must be courageous, Spirit-filled leadership! Having personally attended Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Mainline Church of Christ “seminary” – Harding Graduate School of Religion – though these institutions are genuinely helpful in understanding the Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible, their graduates produce little “fruit of disciples.” This is not surprising as their graduates “now fully trained, will be like [their] teachers.” (Luke 6:40) Sadly, these once idealistic young people upon graduation simply receive “degrees of lukewarmness.”
To bring a passionate fire to the training of Evangelists and Women’s Ministry Leaders who can effectively build multiplying ministries, there must be a walking with an “expert builder,” as well as formal schooling in the Bible. (1 Corinthians 3:10) Therefore, it is with great joy that we are formally announcing the founding of the International College of Christian Ministries. Awarded will be Bachelor of Arts (BA) degrees in Ministry upon the appointment of Evangelists and Women’s Ministry Leaders in the SoldOut Movement. We will also confer a Master of Arts (MA) degree in Ministry after the fulfillment of these requirements: 1) Completion of a specified reading list; 2) Either the acquiring of a second language for mission work or one academic year of studying Greek or Hebrew in a university; and 3) The writing of a thesis which will be approved by the Central Leadership Council.
My heartfelt plea is for disciples anywhere and everywhere – whether in the Mainline Churches of Christ, conservative Christian Churches, the International Churches of Christ, those who have drifted into denominational churches, or even fall-aways: Let the Spirit gather us together as one in God’s new movement. Let us be unified by being “consumed with [a fiery, hot] zeal for our Father’s house” (John 2:17) and “loving one another deeply from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22) Then and only then, will we become “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” distinct from the world and worldly churches with various degrees of lukewarmness. (1 Peter 2:9) And to God be all the glory!