- JUNE 2002 NUMBER 25
Laodicean Church Age: Matter of Fact or Myth?
Challenging the Prevailing Spirit of Unbelief
I stood in a church service last night and listened to the testimonies of brokenhearted saints sharing how God had met their hearts in a fresh way. It was thrilling. Openness led to brokenness. Brokenness led to oneness. People were praying, weeping, sharing, getting right with one another, and rejoicing. After the meeting a little boy came and told me how he had trusted God to save him. It sure is good to be in town when God is!
“We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old” (Psalms 78:1). Our nation has a unique history, especially in regards to revival. All of us have read about the Great Awakening when God stepped down from heaven and did a sudden and supernatural work. Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield stepped forward and spoke as oracles of God. The preaching atmosphere was supercharged with the glory of God and phenomenal things took place. Scores who sought to quench the Spirit were brought to their knees as they cried out for mercy with piercing shrieks. The very complexion of countless towns and society in general was radically altered for good and for God.
All the mighty works of God have been attended with prayer and great faith. It was 1859 when an unknown and obscure man purposed in his heart to pray for God’s blessing on our nation. Feeling led of God, he rented a room on Fulton Street in New York City and announced a noonday prayer meeting. He prayed alone for half an hour and ultimately six others joined him that first day. The following day around fifty dropped in to intercede. The great prayer revival was born and grew to thousands gathering daily for an hour of prayer. Petitions were sent in and prayer went up for these requests. Amazing answers to these prayers came in daily. This movement of prayer swept the nation. One man traveled from Nebraska to New York and found people praying in every town. He proclaimed, “The whole nation is a prayer meeting!” In the midst of this mighty outpouring it is reported that as many as a quarter of a million souls were converted in the space of two to three months. Reading the mighty acts God has done in the past is thrilling, but can we expect more mighty acts in our day? Are the great movements of God relegated to the annals of history?
The blight of fatalism has stripped multitudes of any hope that God might again do great things. It makes little difference whether it’s “hyper-reformed” or “hyper-dispensational.” The result is the same. Reformed fatalism is consumed with God’s sovereignty and majors on telling people how incapable they are of believing. It seems these people are so fearful that one of the non-elect might get converted that they forget to preach the gospel so the elect can be saved! The Scripture is abundantly clear that men are responsible to repent and believe the gospel. If you don’t expect men to be saved you will not see men saved. Peter Masters, current pastor of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle, said one of the reasons England is in such awful spiritual darkness is because of the loss of the evangelistic sermon. He, like his predecessor, preaches an evangelistic sermon and offers Christ to sinners every Sunday night. Evangelistic zeal grinds to a halt when we speculate on things that are too high for us, rather than obeying God’s command to preach the profound, yet simple, gospel to every creature.
Regardless of its nature, fatalism in any form is deadly. If you really believe that God has predestinated us to the so-called “Laodicean church age,” then you will quietly accommodate yourself to fitting into the “will of God” by conforming to the laid back, half-dead religion which is so prevalent today. The seven letters addressed in Revelation were directed to the seven local churches in Asia Minor. These churches were local assemblies of baptized believers, not figurative or imaginary symbols. The problems addressed were first-century problems and all of these problems have been present in every century since. The Lord never told the Laodiceans they were “O.K.” because they prefigured the church prior to Christ’s return. He never encouraged them in modeling “lukewarmness” as role models for the benefit of future generations. Not once is it even remotely intimated that they were destined to be like Goldilocks’ porridge, neither cold nor hot. In no uncertain terms He commanded them to REPENT!
Do you believe that God was responsible for the Ephesians’ leaving their first love? Do you really think God sent Jezebel to seduce God’s servants in order to prefigure a future age? Can you honestly say God made the Laodiceans lukewarm in order to typecast a coming time frame? If blasphemy consists of attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan, then what would you call it when one attributes the work of Satan to God?! Is it possible that a theology of despair has been created to justify the spiritual dullness of North America?
One highly respected church leader commented that he thought the church in America was “right on track.” He went on to explain that we are in the last days and the great falling away is upon us. He reasoned since God foreordained us to live during this time then the low state of spiritual affairs must be right on track. The onset of the apostasy is believed by millions to overthrow any hope for revival in our day. Like one evangelist said, “It’s impossible to have revival today. About the best you can hope for is to see a few souls saved.” His theology has hamstrung his faith and robbed him of the ability to pray or hope for any further “great things” from God.
By the way, the early Christians were looking for the imminent return of Christ. They would have been robbed of this blessed hope had they embraced the church-age theory as held by many today.
I also believe we are living in days of apostasy. The difference is, I don’t believe that Christ-loving, Christ-honoring, Christ-exalting Christian churches are part of the apostasy! Sure, the mainline denominations have forsaken Truth, endorsed sodomy, and taken positions adamantly opposed to God’s moral standards. Of course, a huge segment of evangelicalism has repudiated God’s command of holiness and separation from error. Yes, they are going down the tubes, but we don’t have to join them. Wake up, man! The true church came into existence with a burst of glory and the faithful churches and Christians can go out with a blaze when Christ returns. All is not lost.
If you believe we are in a “Laodicean” period where the spiritual temperature is destined never to rise above lukewarm then you must accept the status quo as normal. Like one man said, “You have to play the hand you are dealt.” By this he meant you must accept the prevailing circumstances and just hang on to the end. Those who embrace this mentality are always eager to defend a low grade of spiritual experience. They justify carnality by making it an option, rather than merely a possibility for the Christian. Lot is used as a “poster boy” and role model to legitimize their position. Deviancy is continually defined down to make everyone feel comfortable. The principled standards that govern Christian conduct are gradually eroded out of existence. Instead of “Thus saith the Lord,” the pulpit is more concerned with “What will the congregation tolerate?” Alas, the prophetic voice is silenced.
The Institutional Backslider
When sin and failure are normalized, then it becomes necessary to “institutionalize” the backslider. To put it another way, the backslider is accepted as a respected part of the established order. When the objective standards are collapsed, then expectations are naturally lowered. We all know it is possible for men to get away from God, but you have just got to wonder how many of the so-called backsliders are really unconverted.
Very little is required and virtually nothing is anticipated from church members. One church boasted of having thousands of members while less than half ever showed up on a given Sunday. This was a bragging point when it should have been cause for shame. The whole idea is to first get their name on the roll. Then maybe something will happen at some point in the future that will lead to faithfulness and spiritually.
The atmosphere in the early church was so super-charged with the holy presence of God that men were afraid to band together with them—“And of the rest durst no man join himself to them.” The vitality and spiritual reality were so overwhelming that people were forced to examine themselves and count the cost before jumping on board. Only the serious-minded would think of hooking up with a group where God Himself struck liars dead. I really doubt if nominalism was a big problem in such a climate.
Conserving the Apostasy
When a man adopts the mindset that failure is normal and backsliding is nothing to be alarmed at, then he will be forced to act as a maintenance man for mediocrity. Comforting the feeble-minded and restoring the fallen are necessary and commendable, but should never occupy all of one’s time and resources. How can any progress be made when all the energy is expended in keeping the “programs” going? Brother, we can hope for, pray for, believe for, and expect better things.
Seasons of refreshing have come to God’s people down through the ages of history. The darkness of night has been dispelled time and again as the light of God has burst in on the scene. Just because the tide is out doesn’t mean we have to content ourselves with the desert. God has not predestinated us in these latter days to be Laodicean deadbeats.
The high God of heaven is still on the throne and longs to pour out His Spirit upon His people. A relative of Jonathan Edwards named Stoddard believed God for, prayed for, and preached for revival. The church he pastored experienced five seasons of heavenly visitation during the thirty-five years he was the pastor. Several neighboring pastors who did not believe that God could visit their churches experienced no times of refreshing during their entire ministries. Don’t let the excesses of misguided people or those who seek to humanly manufacture an awakening deter you from seeking God for great things.
Hardly anyone would deny that God is sovereign in where He bestows the sacred flame. But who could dare deny that Israel limited God through their unbelief? Henry Ford said, “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, either way you are right.” And whether you believe God can or God can’t, either way you are right! Personal revival, inter-personal revival, and local church revival are gracious possibilities because our God still responds to humility, faith, prayer, and obedience.
Is 21st century revival possible? Has God permanently closed the windows of heaven? Does God put a yearning and burning in our hearts to mock us? I don’t think so. Let the naysayers and fatalists console one another in their skepticism. But as for you and me, let’s believe God for more great things!