In 1851 British artist William Holman Hunt created a painting entitled “The Light of the World.” It has become one of the most recognizable religious paintings in modern history, as it has been copied and reproduced by several artists. Hunt has Jesus standing at the tightly-closed door of a seemingly neglected cottage. Christ holds a lantern in one hand; His other hand is raised to knock on the door as if to gain entrance. However, if you look diligently you’ll notice that the most unique feature of the painting is that there is no knob or handle on the outside of the door. For Christ to gain entrance to the cottage, the door would have to be opened from within.
The motivation for Hunt’s painting was Revelation 3:20—a verse capturing Christ’s words to the church in Laodicea. “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.” The Laodicean church had become tepid and apathetic, yet Christ, the consummate gentleman, refused to force Himself into its midst. He was standing patiently in the chill of the night, waiting to be invited in.
What a sad picture—and the implication is stunning, if Christ can’t get in, then neither can anyone else. If you are careful to study the seven churches in Revelation, then you know each one is not only historic, but also prophetic. Meaning, that the assessments made by Christ not only described real first-century congregations that we should learn from, but they also foretell the different epochs of church history from then till present day.
The Laodicean church, being the last of the seven, represents the lukewarm spirit of the Church on earth just prior to the rapture, tribulation and the return of Jesus. It’s a Church that is materially wealthy, but spiritual impoverished. A church too busy with plans and programs and pride that it is oblivious to the fact that Christ has been shut-out. Instead of being refreshing, the Laodicean church is revolting, “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16).
It doesn’t take long to see that the contemporary church fits this description. Instead of preaching the biblical Gospel which requires us to take up a cross, we have a comfortable health-and-wealth Gospel which tells us that we can have our “Best Life Now.” Instead of a church that stands on biblical convictions we have a church of easy compromise where the Bible is up for debate, where Jesus is not the way, but one way to heaven, where topics like sin and judgment have been erased from the vocabulary. Instead of worship where Christ is the focus, we have services that are suited to our preferences and tastes—the seats can’t be too hard, the temperature must be just right and music should make us feel good about ourselves.
Listen to the powerful commentary on the Church offered by Steven J. Lawson:
“As the Church advances into the twenty-first century, the stress to produce booming ministries has never been greater. Influenced by corporate mergers, towering skyscrapers, and expanding economies, bigger is perceived as better, and nowhere is this “Wall Street” mentality more evident than in the church. Sad to say, pressure to produce bottomline results has led many ministries to sacrifice the centrality of biblical preaching on the altar of man-centered pragmatism.
A new way of “doing” church is emerging. In this radical paradigm shift, exposition is being replaced with entertainment, preaching with performances, doctrine with drama, and theology with theatrics. The pulpit, once the focal point of the church, is now being overshadowed by a variety of church-growth techniques, everything from trendy worship styles to glitzy presentations to vaudeville-like pageantries. In seeking to capture the upperhand in church growth, a new wave of pastors is reinventing church and repackaging the gospel into a product to be sold to “consumers.”
Whatever reportedly works in one church is being franchised out to various “markets” abroad. As when gold was discovered in the foothills of California, so ministers are beating a path to the doorsteps of exploding churches and super-hyped conferences where the latest “strike” has been reported. Unfortunately, the newly panned gold often turns out to be “fool’s gold.” Not all that glitters is actually gold.
Admittedly pastors can learn from growing churches and successful ministries. Yet God’s work must be done God’s way if it is to know God’s blessing. He provides the power and He alone receives the glory only as His divinely prescribed plan for ministry is followed. When man-centered schemes are followed, often imitating the world’s schemes, the flesh provides the energy and man receives the glory…In a strange twist, the preaching of the cross is now foolishness, not only to the world, but also to the church.”
Friends, the church of this era won’t be killed by persecution, but by prosperity. The only hope is to declare spiritual bankruptcy, open the door and let the Master back in. -DM