Laodicea: the church that will

The disease of Laodiceanism grips the church. But there is a cure.

James B. McLain pastors the Otis Orchards, Washington, and Post Falls, Idaho, Seventh-day Adventist churches.

Laodicea! Does the word frighten you? Some people wield the message to this church like a battle-ax. Others consider it the description of a forsaken people who have fallen hopelessly into the lukewarm mire of apostasy. In the middle are those who are confused and bewildered and accept as the better part of valor willful ignorance of the existence of this message.

The description of the seven churches of Revelation that Uriah Smith penned for his book Daniel and the Revelation forms a significant part of Adventism's self-understanding. Our church has accepted Smith's suggestion that these churches represent seven epochs within the Christian church, ranging from apostolic purity and aggressiveness to the end-time quagmire of blindness and the lukewarm condition. Each church was given a special message for its particular time. The members of each church were commanded to be overcomers.

If these seven churches represent the time from John's day until Christ's return, then every Christian is a part of the church that represents his or her time. So regardless of their geographic location, Christians living during the apostolic period belonged to the Ephesus church. Likewise, those living in the time of the end are part of Laodicea regardless of where they live. Laodicea represents today's Christianity generally, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church specifically.

Laodicea, which means "a judging of the people," is the church that finishes the work of God. It must be, for there is no eighth church. No one should feel any stigma about being a part of Laodicea--it is impossible now to be anything else. The trouble we face does not lie in being Laodicean but rather in suffering from the disease of Laodiceanism.

What is Laodiceanism? Is it being lukewarm? Is it saying "I am rich . . . and have need of nothing" ? Or is it the lack of the gold, eyesalve, and white raiment? I have news for you: it is none of the above. These are symptoms of Laodiceanism--very serious symptoms, but they are not the disease.

The essence of Laodiceanism is that the church does not now have the intimate relationship with Christ that He urges upon it (see Rev. 3:20). If it had such a relationship, why the invitation? This invitation is all-inclusive. No one can leave himself or herself out. If you claim to be a Christian, then you must grapple with Christ's challenge.

The message to the seventh church is twofold. Its primary focus reveals who is responsible for the condition of the church. Each message begins with the words "Unto the angel." According to Uriah Smith this angel represents the leadership of the church: its administrators, pastors, and ancillary workers. Historically, God has sought to lead His people through a "called ministry." As the leadership goes, so goes the church.

As a pastor I have taken this message very personally. It is unsettling, to say the least, to have my Saviour lay at my doorstep the responsibility for this most serious condition. But as I have examined my own life in the light of Revelation 3:20,1 must confess that I have been less than faithful.

The secondary focus, but with equal responsibility, is the church member. More often than not, church members are mirrors of their pastor rather than Jesus. But they do not have to be in that trap. They are free moral agents who are capable of understanding this message and bringing Christ into their lives even though their pastor may not be doing so.

Treating Laodiceanism

Three years ago I learned a concrete way in which I can put Jesus in my life every day. Through Morris Venden's book How to Make Christianity Real I finally began to put together the pieces that revealed what a Christian experience consists of and how it can be maintained on the cutting edge. The idea was based on 2 Corinthians 3:18 and 1 John 2:6 as well as the following quotation: "It will do you good, and our ministers generally, to frequently review the closing scenes in the life of our Redeemer. Here, beset with temptations as He was, we may all learn lessons of the utmost importance to us. It would be well to spend a thoughtful hour each day reviewing the life of Christ from the manger to Calvary. We should take it point by point and let the imagination vividly grasp each scene, especially the closing ones of His earthly life. By thus contemplating His teachings and sufferings, and the infinite sacrifice made by Him for the redemption of the race, we may strengthen our faith, quicken our love, and become more deeply imbued with the spirit which sustained our Saviour. If we would be saved at last we must all learn the lesson of penitence and faith at the foot of the cross."*

Here the recommendation is made that every Christian spend approximately one hour each day meditating upon the teachings and the sacrifice of our Lord. A devotional life developed in this way will yield a stronger faith, greater love for God and man, and a life imbued with more of the Spirit that sustained our Saviour. This practice is the perfect cure for Laodiceanism.

So how do I accomplish this end? That we may meet this need, God has provided for our use the most profound devotional tool known to man. This tool is the record of Christ's life contained in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Each morning I prayerfully meditate for approximately one hour on several chapters of the gospel story. I begin with Matthew, and when I complete John several weeks later, I return to the book of Matthew. Reading and meditating on portions of these Gospels is a simple way in which to interact with Christ. This is not the place for speed reading. I do not try either to memorize or to explain the text. I am not looking for some new proofs for doctrinal positions. In my reading I am simply seeking to understand what Christ's message means to me personally. I want to be changed into His image, His likeness.

It is by beholding the glory of the Lord that we are changed into His image (see 2 Cor. 3:18). I estimate that in the past three years I have read through the Gospels, casually, more than 50 times. I have never before participated in a practice that is so powerful. The repetition is absolutely a godsend. The effect on my personal life has been revolutionary.

Even though I have been following this plan for the past three years, it has not become boring or stale. On the contrary, the experience continues to grow. I have shared this plan with my churches and urged them to at least try it for three months. Some have accepted the challenge and are reaping the rewards. Recently I had the privilege of sharing this plan with a Methodist congregation in Oakland, California. They loved it. The plan transcends denominationalism.

When I became a Christian 16 years ago I gave priority to the proof-text method of study. I tended to regard Christ's words as just some among the many words of Scripture. Since centering my attention on the gospel narratives, I have begun to place Christ's words over all other words. His authority is supreme. All other words, whether from the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy, gain their authority from Him and must be in strict harmony with His. He Himself said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away" (Luke 21:33, NKJV). It has become evident to me that all other Scripture is to be interpreted in the light of Christ's life and His teachings, and that the only way one can obtain an optimum understanding of Scripture is by approaching it with Christ's perspective firmly in mind. This devotional plan immerses the mind in His perspective.

Perhaps the most gratifying result of the past three years has been the spiritual growth of my two congregations, as evidenced by the outreach activities in which they have become involved. Member Bible studies have totaled up to 30 people. Of the 10 people baptized at a recent baptism, eight had taken that step as a direct result of studies given by the members. People who have a daily devotional life focused on the person of Christ as seen in the Gospels are easier to organize for evangelism and often organize themselves to carry out the gospel commission. They are motivated by the Spirit and the example of their Saviour.

Laodicea does not lack for organization or goals or plans. We will not fulfill our commission by finding a better method--we already possess adequate plans and methods. What Laodicea lacks is the power and motivation that come from a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

But ultimately Laodicea will complete the work of God. The real question is what part you will have in it.

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James B. McLain pastors the Otis Orchards, Washington, and Post Falls, Idaho, Seventh-day Adventist churches.

June 1988

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